Halim Al Karim


Halim Al Karim
Sep 12 – Nov 2, 2013

From the time he was a young artist in Iraq, Halim Al Karim determined the camera to be a “truth seeker.”  Decades later, this internationally recognized artist has distinguished himself with his psychologically-charged portraits and signature photographic techniques. Al Karim’s own impressively scaled, custom camera on view in the exhibition offers a glimpse into the compelling nature of the photographs that surround it. Two of the artist’s commanding parallel series’ “Eternal Love” and “Lost Memory” speak to a dream state of remembering what the artist calls “the beloved” and include Al Karim’s newest colloidion photographs produced via his large hand-built camera. Al Karim’s commanding, other- worldly figural images are created through a myriad of methods – often beginning with layers of latex paint applied directly to his models’ faces, then subsequently photographing them through a silk scrim.  The dominant color is achieved in a second layer whereby Al Karim paints the back of each film negative either by pouring or by applying pigment by hand. This approach has offered the artist the ability to not only control the light and shadows like he has in past series, but also to “never to be at the mercy of an external light source,” as his philosophical father stated early on to the artist to “carry your own light from within.”  Al Karim took these words to heart and invented a way of manifesting his elusive images as a protective layer - to obscure the identities of his subjects, “in order to keep them safe.” 

The evolution of Al Karim’s visual language over the years has become emblematic of a connection across cultures resulting in broad recognition throughout the Middle East and in Europe for his universal concerns for humanity. Choosing love in the face of war and family over politics, Al Karim’s journey of self-discovery has informed the artist’s distinctive bodies of work because of and throughout a life of much persecution and turmoil. One such pivotal chapter involved tremendous isolation in which Al Karim lived alone in the Iraqi desert for three years to avoid serving in the military under the profoundly cruel regime of Saddam Hussein.  As a distillation of such experiences, his art has been dedicated to acknowledging the unvarnished realities of the human condition, yet with an overarching theme of love.  Though to freely make manifest such imagery, it required decades of patience and secrecy since to speak to what Al Karim saw around him would have great repercussions. Earlier series such as ”The Witness Archive,” for example,  cleared the way for transcendence in both freedom of expression and living a life in focus.  Al Karim offers, “It is my feeling that each soul stems from and exists within an all-encompassing love and cannot wholly survive without recognizing its presence in the world.”  The shadowy figures of the series, stand on the threshold of two worlds, but reside steadfast in the saturated light of only one. In this, they reveal an open door, where all the beloved who have come before reveal an ultimate view of love eternal.

The presence of the massive hand-constructed camera that yields his newest wet-plate collodion photograph series reveals in its startling presence just how limitlessly innovative and committed an artist Halim Al Karim is in pursuit of capturing what the artist considers  “the light from within and emanated by each individual soul.” Although the technical process of colloidion prints was invented in the mid- 1800s, it fell out of favor for its cumbersome materials that required immediate proximity to a darkroom. Used primarily for portraiture, the collodion process allows for great detail, but never before has been seized upon to make such enormous images.  The latest “Eternal Love” images, Eternal Love 16 and Eternal Love 17, are reminiscent of a bygone era with its all-consuming process  and sensitive in the way the artist makes manifest a long ago memory of a songstress whose melodious voice captivated him as a child and the image of whom he holds in his heart even today.

Halim Al Karim’s photographic oeuvre is the result of a poignant and compassionate journey of both body and soul from his country of Iraq to his larger sense of a universal identity. His deepening and unceasing quest to bear witness and seek the highest truth generously allows all who enter to share in his expansive view.

Halim Al Karim will be speaking about his life and work at the Denver Art Museum’s Logan Lecture series on Wednesday, September 25th at 7pm. A book signing will follow the event to benefit the museum.  For additional information and tickets, please contact DAM Contemporaries at damcontemporaries.denverartmuseum.org 720.913.0152.